Why Nobody Cares About Your Set

“It just feels overwhelming!” is what I hear most often from actors who say they want to do a one person show.  It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. My mission is to help take the overwhelm out of the process and today I’m going to do that by talking about your set.

The set is the furniture & scenery you use on stage.  Now, unlike a movie where you can show a scene in an actual kitchen, pre-school classroom or a jungle in Africa, a theater piece requires you to stay – uhhh, in the theater.  But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take your audience to that same kitchen, classroom and jungle.

One of the best things about theater is that the audience is an active participant in making your story come to life.  With a little help from you, they get to enter the world you create using their imaginations.   So you don’t need the set to look like the actual kitchen from the house you grew up in, in order to tell the story about the day you found out your brother was really your uncle.

A fancy, elaborate set won’t make your show better.  I went to a one person show that had a set that looked like something out of a Macy’s Easter window display.  Halfway through the show, I was admiring the set and wondering if the bathtub was real and how many people it took to get it on stage.

My point is I was distracted.  Not because the set was elaborate, but because the story didn’t engage me for long.  The set was the best part of the show.

Remember, nothing matters more than your story. Not the costume, not the lights or the music.  And those elements only matter if they’re used to SUPPORT your story.

When it comes to sets & props (smaller items on stage that you can move or use) my director Mike Stutz said “Don’t have anything on stage you’re not going to use.” It’s great advice for your set and your home too – but that’s another topic.

Also keep in mind the more elaborate, aka complicated, your set is, the more money you will have spent, and the more cumbersome it will be to take it to other theaters.

One trick to transforming a set into anything you’d like is to use blocks. Blocks are great because you can sit, stand or lay down on them.  And you can stack them to be a table, bar, bleacher, or car – whatever you need them to be.  The sky’s the limit!  Most theaters have a few blocks you can use.  Be sure to ask about that when shopping for your theater.

I’ve included some photos and links of one person show set pieces – from Broadway to small theater – to give you an idea of how simple your set can be.  That way you can focus your energy on your script and telling the best story you can.

And if you want to see the set of more high profile shows:

Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking

Buyer & Cellar with Michael Urie

Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays

Elaine Stritch’s At Liberty

If you are interested in creating your own one person show, what questions do you have about creating one?

If you’re already a solo performer, what kind of set did you use?

Let me know on Facebook. Thanks for your time!


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